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Opinion: SC will score self-goal if Bhushan goes free

By VIRENDRA KAPOOR
August 24, 2020 12:30 IST
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If Prashant Bhushan were to be allowed to go scot-free, it would open the floodgates for abuse of the courts, argues Virendra Kapoor.

IMAGE: The Supreme Court of India.
 

One thing is clear. If the Supreme Court were to heed the incessant media campaign to protect Prashant Bhushan from punishment in the contempt of court case, it would allow him to go scot-free.

No doubt about that.

And, two, allowing the advocate, who seems to have made a career out of running down judges, to go unpunished even after his conviction, encourages others to follow his example -- and try and seek martyrdom and its concomitant celebrity-hood.

The question which public intellectuals, members of the Bar and others keen to save Bhushan from being punished for his tweets is this: Would they have bothered if a little-known lawyer, without the luxury of an anti-Modi media eating out of his hands tweeted but not half as scurrilous tweets as Bhushan's decidedly are, were to be so dealt with by the Supreme Court? We doubt very much.

It is not without significance that the campaigners defending the indefensible Bhushan completely skirt around the actual tweets which have landed him in trouble.

In fact, it is a huge surprise that the Supreme Court did not haul up Bhushan for his earlier claim about '16 former chief justices'.

That was a frontal assault on the dignity and public standing of the court.

If it did not lower the prestige of the highest court in the land in the eyes of the public, nothing else will.

Yet, the court after scheduling a preliminary hearing, deferred the case indefinitely.

It was expected that it would show despatch in defending the honour of its former heads.

The court is still dragging its feet, unwilling to take that particular contempt of court case to its logical conclusion.

As for the two tweets, which have led to Bhushan'S conviction, there is no doubt that no sensible person with due regard for our Constitutional institutions would seek to drag down the higher judiciary to the marketplace for people to abuse it.

But those most arrogantly offering gratuitous advice and reading aloud civics lessons to the judges must ponder for a moment if their actions do not aid and abet a lawyer who has made it a habit to abuse the judiciary every time he fails to get his way.

Pontificating about the founding principles of the Republic and how the courts were supposed to be a bulwark of the citizens's freedoms does not square with the defence of a serial offender who has never hesitated in traducing the highest court in the land.

IMAGE: Activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan.

Of course, it is not hard to fathom Bhushan's personal motive for refusing to make amends even when given the opportunity.

He wants to burnish his self-assumed image as a lone warrior against alleged wrong-doing in the higher rungs of the judiciary.

Consider his statement while refusing to apologise where he talks of this 'moment of history' and his 'responsibility to the future'.

So long as such delusions of grandeur did not pull down a Constitutional institution, which has survived the test of over seven decades, to the level of the street, making it vulnerable to contempt and ridicule by the aam aadmi, it remains Bhushan's personal matter.

But when it crosses the Lakshmanrekha, as it certainly did in the impugned tweets the court hauled him up for, it becomes a matter of grave public interest and deserves to be punished lest it instigate others to throw stones at the top court.

Remember that more than any other institution, courts while dispensing justice rely heavily on precedents, on earlier case law.

If Bhushan were to be allowed to go scot-free, it would open the floodgates for abuse of the courts at every tier of the judicial system.

In this context, we recall a case of contempt tried by the Delhi high court a few years ago.

A newly-launched magazine did a cover story on what it called the integrity quotient of Delhi high court judges.

It polled lawyers to gauge the financial honesty of sitting judges on a scale of one to ten.

The contempt of court case that followed the publication not only resulted in the magazine's editor and its publisher offering an abject apology, but eventually in the magazine's premature demise.

Which brings one to a question for the media warriors now expending a lot of editorial space in the defence of the lawyer who in his own words seeks to make history.

Would anyone have said in so many words what Bhushan said about the former chief justices of India?

Would they have expected to go unscathed if they had excoriated the incumbent CJI on the basis of a mere photograph of him sitting on a parked Harley Davidson?

Defend Bhushan by all means, but at least don't abandon a sense of balance, a sense of perspective in completely glossing over the offensive tweets which without an iota of doubt lower the standing of the highest court in the land in the eyes of the lay public.

And in the end, how the ordinary men and women view the court is all that should matter the most.

However, if Bhushan were to be allowed to 'make history', as he says he wants to, the highest court in the land would score a self-goal, affecting its public dignity and honour.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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